Recently in Performances
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
21 Jan 2016
Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw
The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a
last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance
at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna
Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.
Stepping in for Karel Mark Chichon, who cancelled due to illness, young
Italian conductor Pietro Rizzo led the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in a
exciting, if imperfect, performance. It was evident that he had had very little
time with the orchestra. The first bars sounded rather scrabbly. There were
unsteady woodwind attacks, especially in the wedding scene, and the horn
section repeatedly lagged behind in Act III. Mr Rizzo’s signalling to the
Netherlands Radio Choir, who ushered in Butterfly with some heavenly sounds,
also suffered from their belated acquaintance. The Humming Chorus, sung
backstage, was adequate musically but lacked dynamic subtlety. Flaws aside,
however, the performance had a pulsating energy and was enriched with carefully
crafted details. Mr Rizzo can suspend a phrase in mid-air and then let it glide
down as gracefully as the folds of a kimono. He also whipped up some thrilling
Puccinian crests, although climaxes were hard-edged and needed more roundness
in the brass. Altogether, Mr Rizzo’s was an exciting Concertgebouw debut.
It was also his first time conducting in the Netherlands, and hopefully he will
return soon. There were excellent contributions from some of the principals, in
particular concertmaster Joris van Rijn’s tender solos, Ellen
Versney’s softly glittering harp and Paul Jussen’s portentous
All the soloists sang the music by heart, which is always a boon, and
entered and exited in character. Most of the supporting cast ranged from
acceptable to competent. As Goro tenor Ho-yoon Chung sang very well indeed, but
nothing in his characterisation suggested the marriage-broker’s base,
money-grubbing nature. He sounded more like a friendly next-door neighbour. A
cut above the rest were bass Miklós Sebestyén as the Bonze and the
three Dutch singers playing Kate Pinkerton and Butterfly’s relatives. Mr
Sebestyén was vocally commanding in his short scene, storming in to
renounce Cio-Cio-San for converting to Christianity. Maria Fiselier, Ruth
Willemse and Julia Westendorp were all outstanding.
Tenor Arnold Rutkowski has an attractive lyric voice with an interesting,
bittersweet chocolatey timbre. His Pinkerton was young and foolish and
completely unaware of the havoc he was wreaking. He was on solid ground as long
as he sang mezzo forte or louder. Softer singing resulted in quality loss. Mr
Rutkowski is very musical, but more dynamic control would increase his
expressive possibilities. He had all the high notes, which he jettisoned with
great physical energy, but the dicey trajectory they sometimes took made one
wish for more technical grip. Baritone Angelo Veccia was a suave and humane
Sharpless. His refined phrasing amply made up for some throatiness, mostly
evident in the upper third of the voice. Mr Veccia’s restrained Sharpless
found a dramatic foil in Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who brought her potent dramatic
presence to Suzuki. The extremes of her acerbic top and plunging contralto made
Butterfly’s maid and companion both fierce-tempered and fiercely
maternal. The orchestra was often a little too loud—a common issue at the
Concertgebouw, where sound carries further than some conductors
realise—but Ms Lemieux could easily counter the volume.
So could Lianna Haroutounian, who gave a world-class performance as the
abandoned teenage bride. Her Butterfly was trusting but dignified, and devoid
of simpering silliness. With its rich, silk-wrapped vibrato, even focus from
top to bottom, and that ductile quality Italians call morbidezza
(softness), Ms Haroutounian’s voice is ideal for the young heroine. And
she is a true spinto soprano, with enough power and stamina to tackle the
onerous third act. Her full top notes are confident and lustrous. She did not
take the high D flat at the end of the entrance aria, but the
composer-sanctioned lower alternative, and quite beautifully too. “Un bel
dì vedremo” (One fine day) was vocal perfection. She effectively
built up the tension during Butterfly’s imagined reunion with Pinkerton
and ended the aria in a stunning high B flat. Visibly emotional in the suicide
scene, she veered a little sharp in “Tu, tu, piccolo iddio” (You,
you, my little god). Halfway through, she refocused her voice and sailed
through to a secure finale. Unsurprisingly, the hall gave her a clamorous
ovation. San Francisco Opera has already announced that Ms Haroutounian will be
their Butterfly next season. No doubt she will be invited to sing this role at
several other houses. As many Puccini fans as possible need to hear her in it.
In fact, opera fans of all types need to hear Ms Haroutounian, in any of her
roles—hers is one of the major voices of our time.
Cast and production information:
Cio-Cio-San — Lianna Haroutounian, Suzuki — Marie-Nicole
Lemieux, Arnold Rutkowski — Pinkerton, Sharpless — Angelo Veccia,
Goro — Ho-yoon Chung, Prince Yamadori— Yujoong Kim, The
Bonze— Miklós Sebestyén, Yakusidé — Hee-Saup Yoon,
The Imperial Commissioner — Enseok Choi, The Official Registrar —
Kyung-Il Ko, Cio-Cio-San’s Mother — Ruth Willemse, Kate
Pinkerton/Aunt — Maria Fiselier, Niece — Julia Westendorp,
Conductor — Pietro Rizzo, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio
Philharmonic. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on Saturday,
16th January, 2016.